MOUNTAINVIEW, Calif. — What happens when someone is penalized for exercising his or her constitutionally protected right to free speech and the actions against him or her are held up as a victory for equality and diversity?
The resignation of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich provided a case study in the language of “doublethink” or “newspeak” — the words generated by the British writer George Orwell to describe government propaganda that spins the truth of things.
Media coverage of Eich’s departure noted that Internet dating site OKCupid had blocked Mozilla’s Firefox Web browser in protest, and there was speculation that Google, which was poised to renew a search contract with Mozilla and is strongly supportive of “marriage equality,” had also registered concern.
Yet when Mozilla’s executive chairwoman, Mitchell Baker, confirmed Eich’s departure under fire, she insisted that the corporation was fully committed to free-speech rights as well as “equality” for same-sex couples seeking to marry.
“Mozilla believes both in equality and freedom of speech. Equality is necessary for meaningful speech. And you need free speech to fight for equality. Figuring out how to stand for both at the same time can be hard,” said Baker in an April 3 post on the company’s blog.
“Our organizational culture reflects diversity and inclusiveness. We welcome contributions from everyone regardless of age ... sexual orientation, geographical location and religious views. Mozilla supports equality for all.”
Baker’s statement did not explain how a corporate culture of “inclusiveness” jibed with Eich’s rapid departure and her public apology to his critics.
“We know why people are hurt and angry, and they are right: It’s because we haven’t stayed true to ourselves,” Baker stated, while a subsequent post insisted, "There is no litmus test to work at Mozilla."
Her conflicted response to the firestorm that threatened Mozilla’s bottom line was just the latest example of a self-consciously “inclusive” institution siding against free-speech rights.
In recent weeks, several universities, in apparent violation of their commitment to academic freedom and open public discourse, have also penalized those who challenge the received wisdom on marriage and other hot-button topics.
To take one example, the Anscombe Society at Stanford University had its funding revoked by the Graduate Student Council for an April 5 conference that presented marriage as a union of one man and one woman. The organization was also directed to pay a “security fee” for the 10 guards deemed necessary to maintain order at the controversial event.
“This fee is a tax on free speech,” read a statement from the Anscombe Society that demanded the charge be withdrawn, and Stanford University finally stepped up to cover the charge.
“Gay-rights activists have managed to convince the media — and most Americans — that believing marriage is between a man and a woman stems from an irrational prejudice and is mere bigotry,” Rusty Reno, the editor of First Things, told the Register. “The result is an Orwellian newspeak familiar to anyone who has encountered multiculturalism.”
“In order to build an ‘inclusive’ society, we need to exclude those who think otherwise. In order to promote tolerance, we must be ruthlessly intolerant of those who disagree with the progressive agenda,” Reno said. “In order to promote sexual freedom, we need to use the power of government to coerce those who don't want to take pictures and bake cakes for gay weddings.”
George Orwell, the author of the novel 1984 — a cautionary portrait of a totalitarian dystopia — frequently criticized political speech “designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
In 1949, at the time of its publication, 1984 was widely viewed as a critique of totalitarian propaganda, with Soviet-controlled media as a prime example of government “disinformation,” though Orwell also targeted evasive terms used to shield the polcies of democratic nations.
New Theater of Ideological Combat
Today, almost three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the theater of ideological combat has shifted, almost entirely, from geopolitics to domestic social issues like same-sex “marriage.” Increasingly, this shift has been accompanied by the frequent but generally unexamined use of terms like equality and tolerance, or hate and war, as placeholders for positions that either uphold or resist the elevation of sexual rights.
“These labels are devices — ploys to shut the conversation down,” said Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, the U.S. bishops’ point man on religious liberty, who has witnessed firsthand the marginalization of Catholic institutions that uphold Church teaching on contraception, abortion and marriage.
“Because when your views are dismissed as the near equivalent of racism — they call it ‘heterosexism’ — you are already in the intellectual basement, and you are trying to talk to people who have claimed the penthouse in this conversation,” he told the Register.
Ryan Anderson, the co-author of What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense, has challenged the current assumption that the principle of equality demands support for same-sex “marriage.”
“Every law makes distinctions. Equality before the law protects citizens from arbitrary distinctions, from laws that treat them differently for no good reason,” Anderson explained in a commentary posted on the Heritage Foundation website.
“To know whether a law makes the right distinctions — whether the lines it draws are justified — one has to know the public purpose of the law and the nature of the good being advanced or protected,” he added. “If the law recognized same-sex couples as spouses, would some argue that it fails to respect the equality of citizens in multiple-partner relationships?”
Meanwhile, New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has cited Mozilla’s public statements on Eich’s resignation as a telling example of modern doublethink on the subject of marriage.
“Eich stepped down rather than recant his past support for the view that one man and one woman makes a marriage,” Douthat noted in an April 13 op-ed, yet “marriage” never appeared in the chairwoman’s apology, which “rambled in the language of inclusion.”
In his view, the “fuzzy rhetoric masking ideological pressure is a serious moral defect at the heart of elite culture in America.” But corporations like Mozilla and universities like Stanford won’t acknowledge “that these biases fundamentally trump the commitment to ‘free expression’ or ‘diversity’ affirmed in mission statements and news releases.”
Reno, for his part, argued that the confusing, even contradictory, use of words like “diversity” to justify exclusion of unacceptable ideas is entirely predictable.
“These paradoxes always emerge in secular liberalism, which won't articulate a substantive view of human flourishing,” he said. “Because no moral principles are clearly outlined, the moral atmosphere becomes foggy. We’re to be tolerant and inclusive and affirming and empowering — except when we're not.”
Meanwhile, a glaring irony often goes unnoticed: Religious teachings that do articulate a coherent, integrated vision of life, and also inspire service to the poor, the sick and the young, are stigmatized as anti-modern “extremism” or even “hate speech.”
In his now-famous 2005 homily warning of a “dictatorship of relativism,” then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger observed that the fleeting ideological fads of modern times underscore the need for a “mature adult faith” — even though it is increasingly dismissed as “fundamentalism.”
“We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires,” he said.
The solution, he added, was a “friendship with Christ … that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false and deceit from truth.”
The public shaming of Brendan Eich, who donated $1,000 to Proposition 8 in defense of traditional marriage six years ago, is just one of many disturbing examples of a new orthodoxy that has already begun to crowd out biblical teaching that embraces marriage as a union of one man and one woman and as the sanctuary of human life.
In an April 15 interview with the Register, Archbishop Lori said that it is time for Catholics and other people of goodwill to stand up for their beliefs, rather than remaining silent on the sidelines, alternately bemused and outraged -- but also scared-- by the clamor of the crowd demanding the head of Brendan Eich.
“We can’t allow ourselves to be defined by others,” said Archbishop Lori. "This is a kind of secular dogmatism that says, 'Equality and marriage is a settled issue and dissenting from that means you are bigoted and thus not deserving of free speech protections.'
“We need to say that freedom of speech and religion means the right to stand up for what we believe to be true about the human person and life, love and family.”
Joan Frawley Desmond is the Register’s senior editor.